Florida National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer warned state economists Friday that a proposed assault rifle ban would be devastating to gun manufacturers lured to the state over the last eight years.
“Gov. Rick Scott and Enterprise Florida solicited and offered significant financial incentives to gun manufacturers to come to Florida to bring more jobs,” she said, speaking to economists who must analyze the impact of a constitutional amendment proposed for the 2020 ballot that would ban assault weapons.
Hammer, speaking for the first time since back-to-back gun-related massacres in El Paso and Dayton two weeks ago, denounced the controversial amendment meant to address gun violence in Florida. The amendment would ban the future sale of assault rifles in the Sunshine State and force current owners to either register them with the state or give them up.
But Hammer said the proposed amendment doesn’t protect the more than 150 gun manufacturers in the state, many of which produce weapons that would be outlawed by the ban. Those companies would be forced to move because they couldn’t possess any new assault weapons, she said.
“If I were the owner of one of these firearm manufacturing companies, I wouldn’t wait to see what voters do,” she said. “If this were allowed to go on the ballot, I’d say, ‘I’m outta here.’”
The amendment has hurdles to clear before it can go before voters in 2020, including passing a legal review by the state Supreme Court. Attorney General Ashley Moody has called the amendment “deceitful and misleading” and said she’ll tell justices that voters shouldn’t be allowed to vote on it.
But before it goes before the court, it must get reviewed by state economists. They will weigh the proposal’s effect on state government and the economy.
The economists aren’t entirely immune from politics. Three of the four principal members are appointed by the state House, Senate and governor, each controlled by Republicans, who have historically resisted gun control measures.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ representative is attorney Katie Cunningham, a former House staffer. Cunningham was mentioned in a 2018 New Yorker profile about Hammer’s influence on the Florida Legislature. The story portrayed Cunningham as acquiescing to Hammer’s wishes on gun issues while she served as policy chief of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee during Scott’s first term in office.
DeSantis’ spokeswoman Helen Ferré said in a statement that Cunningham was on the committee to represent the governor.
“Katie Cunningham is one of the top public safety experts in Florida and that is why she is the Governor’s representative on this issue,” Ferré said.
On Friday the economists did not reach an agreement on how the amendment would affect the state. They said they’d need at least two more meetings before deciding.
Hammer, citing a South Florida Sun-Sentinel story, said Florida’s gun manufacturers make up a $1 billion industry. She said there were more than 700 firearms manufacturing license holders in the state, from small custom shops to large manufacturers, producing more than 750,000 weapons a year as recently as 2016.
The amendment would pull the rug out from under many of those companies that Scott lured to Florida, she said.
For example, Scott gave one of those companies, Colt Manufacturing Co., $1.66 million in state and local incentives in 2011 to bring 63 jobs to the state, according to Bloomberg News.
Hammer noted that even commissioners in Broward County — “a hotbed of anti-gun, gun-hating extremism” — offered tax breaks for Kalashnikov USA to relocate there and produce AK-47s.
Broward County is heavily Democratic, but it’s also the home to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a former student shot and killed 17 people with a military-style AR-15 rifle last year.
The assault weapon ban amendment is being led by Gail Schwartz, whose nephew, Alex Schachter, was killed in the shooting.
Dr. Charles Tate, a Broward County radiologist, argued on behalf of Schwartz’s group that the state would save hundreds of millions of dollars from fewer mass shootings.
He cited the work of one group that estimated the 2016 Pulse massacre in Orlando cost up to $390 million, after medical costs, police response and expense to employers are considered. Those costs are just for the 49 people killed and 54 wounded, not others who were in the club, according to CNN.
The owner of multiple guns, including assault rifles, Tate said he would happily give them up if they were outlawed.
“I am far more interested in the safety of my wife, my children and my grandchildren,” he said.
Much of the discussion by the economists was over the definition of “assault rifle.”
The amendment defines “assault weapons” as “any semiautomatic rifle or shotgun capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in a fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device.”
Moody has argued that the definition is overly broad and would ban a wide variety of weapons, including her grandfather’s hunting rifle and some of the most popular rifles and shotguns in the state.
Hammer agreed. She noted the amendment was crafted by Jon Mills, dean emeritus of the University of Florida law school.
“He is not stupid,” Hammer said. “So we can easily assume that this language is intentionally deceptive and devious.”
Hammer also wondered how old and young alike would respond to having to register or turn in their previously legal weapons.
“How do you tell a 10-year-old little girl who got a Ruger 10/22 with a pink stock for her birthday that her rifle is an assault weapon and she has to turn it over to government or be arrested for felony possession?” she said.